WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China would prefer to take over neighboring Taiwan without military action but is working to get to a position where its military could prevail even if the United States intervenes, U.S. intelligence chiefs said on Tuesday.
China views Taiwan, a democratically governed island, as its "sacred" territory and has never renounced the possible use of force to ensure eventual unification.
The United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is its most important international supporter and arms supplier, making it a constant source of tension between Beijing and Washington.
"It's our view that they (the Chinese) are working hard to effectively put themselves into a position in which their military is capable of taking Taiwan over our intervention," Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Haines and Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testifying on worldwide threats to U.S. national security, discussed the lessons China may be taking from the war in Ukraine and the international response to it.
Haines said she did not believe the war was likely to accelerate China's plans on Taiwan. Berrier said using the military to achieve its objective was not Beijing's top choice.
"I believe the PRC (People's Republic of China) would rather not do it by force. I think they would rather do this peacefully over time," Berrier said.
China was learning "some very interesting lessons" from the Ukraine conflict including the importance of leadership and small unit tactics, as well as effective training with the right weapons systems and a strong non-commissioned officer force, Berrier said.
U.S. officials needed to work with their partners in the Indo-Pacific and Taiwan's leadership, Berrier said, "to help them understand what this conflict has been, about what lessons they can learn and where they should be focusing their dollars on defense and their training.
"They have a largely conscript force. I don't believe it is where it should be," Berrier said of Taiwan.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Idrees Ali, Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Nick Macfie)